The Null Device

2000/8/31

Stupid is as stupid does: In Britain, a mob attacked a paediatrician's home, because they confused the words "paediatrician" and "paedophile". (via Leviathan)

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Great Cthulhu is getting restless: An unexpected earthquake hit Melbourne this evening (about 15 minutes ago). This one was minor, but there may be aftershocks.

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2000/8/30

News Update: Sherril Babcock, who was blocked from website blackplanet.com because of her obscene surname, has finally managed to register -- using the alias "Babpenis", which the site's diligent censorware somehow let slip through.

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And now for a story: at Monash University, where I studied, there was (and still is) an instant messaging system named goofey. Goofey is, in some ways, like ICQ or AIM, only it has been around since the early 1990s and it has a number of other geeky features such as fortunes and a copy of the jargon file. It has several hundred users (there are 166 logins now, on a weekday afternoon), both at Monash and elsewhere. (It is accessible from anywhere on the Internet, and anyone with a UNIX-like machine can download the source and use it.)

Many years ago, before the scientific miracle of the Web allowed bored undergraduates to download South Park episodes and check sports scores, the more geeky among them would spend their lunch breaks in computer labs, logged into a glacially slow shared UNIX machine, chatting, reading USENET and playing nethack (or whatever). Many of them soon got onto goofey and used it to chat with friends (and some of them still do, despite not having seen their university friends for years). And, as anyone who has been in such an environment can tell you, users with obviously female names would get bombarded with messages from overexcited male geeks without social skills.

One enterprising goofey user (a postgraduate at Griffith University in Queensland, if I remember correctly) decided to take advantage of this phenomenon and have a bit of fun. So he found a copy of Eliza (you know, the program which attempts to hold a conversation), modified it a bit so that it looked more like a female student and less like a psychiatrist, and put it on goofey with the screenname cathy. As one would expect, a lot of people started chatting up cathy, sometimes spending two hours doing so. Some (later on) were people in on the joke, and others were clueless male geeks who presumably hadn't spoken to enough real women to know the difference.

cathy is no more; she was wiped out when the computer used in the experiment died, many years ago. However, it was quite an amusing prank.

So what brought on this nostalgiafest? Well, it turns out that someone else has had the same idea, and done something similar for AOL Instant Messenger. He doesn't seem to have modified the responses much though.

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"We will block Napster at your phone company, we will firewall it at your PC" After a Sony staffer provoked outrage from computer users by laying out an Orwellian revenue-protection plan to block file sharing at all levels, Sony have reacted by distancing themselves from the plans (as you would expect any PR-sensitive corporation to do). Mind you, they don't actually say the comments are incorrect, just that they were quoted out of context.

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Sample news: Ex-Amiga tracker d00d and renowned game-music composer Bjorn Lynne is selling a CD-ROM of instrument samples, for only US$19. It contains samples in a variety of genres, and looks like quite good value for money.

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Dolphins evolve opposable thumbs. `Oh, Shit', says humanity.

"Last Friday, a crude seaweed-and-shell abacus washed up on the beach near Hilo, Hawaii. The next day, a far more sophisticated abacus, fashioned from some unknown material and capable of calculating equations involving numbers of up to 16 digits, washed up on the same beach. The day after that, the beach was littered with thousands of what turned out to be coral-silicate and kelp-based biomicrocircuitry."

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The Atlantic Monthly has a typically insightful piece on the present and future of the music industry and the Internet.

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Blog gimmick of the day: An entirely handwritten blog. Most annoying for Lynx users, but nobody cares about them anymore (as the paucity of ALT tags around the web would suggest). Wonder whether it'll catch on, and whether the author will keep it up.

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I just did the the Religion Selector, a web questionnaire which attempts to find which belief system one is closest to, based on a few questions on ethical and eschatological outlook. It says my nearest belief system is Unitarian Universalism, followed by Humanism and Theravada Buddhism; the equal furthest are Eastern Orthodox, Islam, Roman Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist. Of course, being a web toy, this should be taken with a grain of salt...

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